Monash Art Ensemble release ‘Nyilipidgi’ through ABC Records

Professor Paul Grabowsky and the Monash Art Ensemble, in collaboration with David Yipininy Wilfred, the traditional djunggayi (manager) of the manikay of the country of Nyilipidgi, and his brother Daniel Ngukurr Boy Wilfred, last month released their latest album Nyilipidgi, through ABC records.

Nyilipidgi, the latest release to come out of Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, was composed by Grabowsky who celebrates 12-years of collaboration with ceremonial musicians of the Wagilak clan and was drawn by a ‘long-held desire to engage with this old, old music, this living, breathing time tunnel, the heritage and testimony of the world’s oldest living culture’. 

Nyilipidgi Album Cover

Coordinator of Jazz and Popular Music, Dr Paul Williamson comments of the release of Nyilipidgi that it ‘marks a significant educational and research outcome for the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music.  The opportunity for Monash students to learn about Australian indigenous culture, and perform and be mentored by the Young Wagilak Group, professional musicians and Monash staff is an example of the ongoing unique opportunities and artistic vision of the School of Music‘. 

The work was premiered at the 2015 Melbourne International Jazz Festival and continues to be performed around the nation, including an upcoming performance at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival on October 28. The Monash Art Ensemble are an ensemble at the forefront of music innovation, creativity and discovery, and consistently commission new Australian works, collaborate with international musicians, and produce consistent high-quality and award-winning recordings. The ensemble, active since 2012, acts to support the development of excellence in young Australian musicians, foster a culture of innovation amongst established Australian musicians and encourage community engagement with Australian musicians and music. 

Monash alumni and scholar Dr Samuel Curkpatrick comments of the album that it ‘thrives on the unique voices of individuals brought together to play, create and imagine. As a part of the manikay tradition, it is an invitation to sit and listen to the voices of those who are beside us, who wish to share and relate their own lives in song. Nyilipidgi is an artwork of possibility, a breath of fresh air that might just sweep us somewhere we could never anticipate. We do not know to where the wind blows’. 

Nyilipidgi lies north-east of Ngukurr, in Australia’s Arnhem Land. At the heart of the ancient culture of the Wagilak people, who continue to care for these ancestral homelands, is the tradition of manikay: shared songs which bind the community together, both reflecting on and creating a sense of identity, place and unity.


This album is the result of that 12-year collaboration, and itself an expression of the manikay tradition through which people come together in song. Music becomes a space where stories are shared, and where boundaries between traditions are dissolved. Rather than becoming two musical forms layered onto one another, Nyilipidgi presents an almost transcendental integration of the two: jazz and Wagilak manikay have a shared foundation in the musical and aesthetic principles of freedom and expression; the rhythmic groove of their respective instrumentations further add a sense of shared time.

Reflecting on the project, Daniel Wilfred comments ‘This song [manikay] never stops; it’s still there, it never changes – my song! Sometimes we do new songs, but it still comes up with our language. New songs, it never stops. Sometimes I mix it up: yidaki [didjeridu] with bilma [clapsticks] with jazz, guitar and drums. Mix it up with the white-fella music. And I keep teaching the Balanda mob [non-Aboriginal people]. Teach them my language too – always teaching them!

The Monash Art Ensemble is directed by Professor Paul Grabowsky and consists of current students and staff from the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music. It is generously supported by Monash University, the Vizard Foundation and the Robert Salzer Foundation.


Professor Paul Grabowsky AO – director, piano
Daniel Ngukurr Boy Wilfred – voice, yidaki (didjeridu), bilma (clapsticks), dance
David Yipininy Wilfred – y
idaki (didjeridu), dance
Assoc. Prof. Rob Burke – soprano saxophone
Tony Hicks – clarinet, bass clarinet
Lachlan Davidson – alto saxophone, piccolo
Arin Grigg – tenor saxophone
Dr Paul Williamson – trumpet
Niran Dasika – trumpet
Jordan Murray – trombone
Chris Vizard – trombone
Lizzy Welsh – violin
Dan Marmot – guitar
Matthias Schack-Arnott – percussion
Kieran Rafferty – drums
Luke Andresen – drums
Dan Sheehan – electric piano
Peter Knight – electronics, trumpet

Track listing

  1. First Dawn
  2. Cycles
  3. The First Dance
  4. Hunt and Pursuit
  5. Warp and Weft
  6. String Theory
  7. Dimensionality
  8. Rolling
  9. In the Bag
  10. Smoke
  11. On the Wing
  12. Safe Journey

The album is currently available for purchase through ABC records.
For more information on the project, upcoming events and performances, please contact Ensemble Manager Megan Burslem at